There are many intersections to negotiate as Corrections initiates relationships that support prisoners to make the changes needed to gain skills in building a life free from crime on their release.
Creativity and arts programmes assist rehabilitation in many ways. Skills learned through arts activities such as performing arts workshops, the creation of murals, song writing and creative writing courses all help prisoners engage in behavioural change that enhances their capacity to lead constructive lives.
And tikanga Māori programmes, which include whakairo, kapa haka, mau rakau, waiata and karakia, play an essential role in the rehabilitation process for Māori prisoners.
Minister for Corrections Hon Louise Upston was gifted a tāonga carved by a prisoner when she spoke at the Corrections Employers’ Breakfast on Tuesday 20 June in Wellington.
The minister warmly encouraged employers to take on more rehabilitated prisoners on release. She discussed from personal experience that many of us at some stage in life need to ask for help.
Providing the right assistance at pivotal moments in a person’s life can make a huge difference and prevent them from returning to past behaviour or reoffending.
Taking part in arts programmes can prepare prisoners for work in the creative industries. For example, creative writing helps with literacy and communication, while art, design and theatre skills can support careers in landscape design, textiles, hospitality and cooking.
There are staff and community leaders in Corrections facilities around the country, who have embraced the value of the arts and creativity. Minister Upston and Ray Smith, Chief Executive at the Department of Corrections, were at the Arts Access Awards 2017 to honour their achievements and contributions to prisoner rehabilitation.
Partnering with the community
You can read about the recipients and Highly Commended citations of the two Arts Access Corrections awards online. Whether it’s a prison, Corrections staff, contracted providers or volunteers, there’s one word that wraps itself around all of them. That word is “community”. Partnerships in the community sector offer opportunities in employment. They can also offer opportunities that build the person. One of the things that prisoners respond to is the fact that people from the community actually care. These volunteers are role models who reflect positive constructive values, offer hope, teach skills and open up creativity.
This year’s recipient of the Arts Access Corrections Community Award is the Bedtime Stories programme, run by volunteers at Arohata Women’s Prison in Wellington with children’s books donated by Cleanslate Press.
The judging panel, comprising Rachel Leota (Deputy National Commissioner, Department of Corrections), Simon Tanner (Northland Regional Corrections Facility) and me, agreed that this programme was a practical community partnership that could change lives and be implemented in any prison environment.
The programme runs every month with up to 18 women – grandmothers, mothers, aunties – taking part. They choose a book and are coached to read it aloud. The reading is recorded on to a CD and posted, along with the book, to the child. You can read more about Bedtime Stories here.
The Highly Commended group Write Where You Are also encourages literacy and communication skills by running creative writing courses in both Arohata and Rimutaka prisons. As Minister Upston said when she presented the citation, “through story writing and poetry, prisoners gain confidence in creative expression, and increase their written and spoken communication skills.”
The importance of tikanga Māori programmes was also recognised when Whānau Manaaki was awarded a Highly Commended citation for delivering tikanga Māori to prisoners in Hawkes Bay Regional Prison.
Christchurch Men’s Prison
And last, but definitely not least, Ray Smith presented Christchurch Men’s Prison with the Arts Access Corrections Leadership Award for its commitment to arts education and artistic expression as a therapeutic, rehabilitative and re-integrative tool across the prison.
What I particularly like about this prison is the number of partnerships it has built within the community, including the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, tertiary provider SkillWise and its creative space The White Room, and Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. Most recently, they brought in a band of young musicians, called Nomad, to share their music with offenders in the Youth Unit.
Community matters a lot when it comes to turning around the lives of offenders and giving them a chance of a leading a constructive life. People in the artistic community are extremely generous in sharing their talent and skills to enhance the lives of prisoners. My thanks to all of you.